Published Sep 26, 2013Displaying an impressive mastery of his craft, Scalene director Zack Parker dexterously engineers the complex, constantly evolving tonal shifts of the uniquely impactful Proxy. While this meticulously constructed movie is undoubtedly dramatic, horrific, thrilling and shockingly funny, Parker's fearless filmmaking deals with emotions so multifaceted that genre designations are rendered inadequate as descriptors.
Like a warning shot, or a tossed gauntlet, the film opens with a scene so specifically brutal it'll be seared into the annals of cinema as deeply, if not as widely, as Game of Thrones' Red Wedding. After her uneventful OB appointment, a very pregnant woman is viciously beaten in an alley by an attacker wearing a red hoodie. Esther (Alexia Rasmussen, Our Idiot Brother) survives the assault but loses the baby. When she's recovered enough to be released from hospital, a friendly caseworker inquires as to the support system she'll be returning home to. Esther explains that she doesn't have any family or friends and that the baby's father was a test tube from a fertility clinic; she'll be going home to a dead fish.
As recommended, Esther decides to try out a support group called "Mothers in Mourning." There she finds plenty of the expected compassion and emotional devastation, but also unlikely understanding for her atypical feelings about motherhood and loss from fellow attendee Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins). Proxy undergoes so many unexpected twists and turns that any further knowledge of the plot would be detrimental to the emotional and intellectual rollercoaster ride Parker has painstakingly constructed.
Tackling the manner in which people subtly and not-so-subtly use others to manufacture feelings they lack the ability to experience on their own, this caustic piece of gorgeously composed cinema grows increasingly insightful and joyously bizarre as it progresses. Parker masterfully toys with expectation and perception, perpetually keeping the audience off-balance before landing each sucker punch to the psyche. It's not just the narrative provocation and fiercely dedicated performances that leave such a distinct impression either. With uncommon deftness, this silver screen puppet master uses all the tools available to him to state his case.
The cinematography by Jim Timperman is extraordinary, capturing with an impeccable eye cool detachment, insidious menace and operatic passion via the use of vivid, exaggerated slow motion. Likewise, Parker's editing nails whatever tone he's going for from scene to scene, while an amazingly ambitious, constantly mutating score by the Newton Brothers is pitch-perfect, uncannily evoking a breadth of intense feelings.
Measured, unsettling and profoundly moving throughout, this is the work of a filmmaker uninterested in easy scares, laughs, tears or answers. If you can handle harsh introspection and jet-black, misanthropic humour about the very touchy subjects of grief and selfish motives for reproduction, Proxy is a bold, unique and extremely effective viewing experience. (IFC Midnight)